But while that previous attempt, which occurred in mid-June, was unsuccessful, Iran appears to be gearing up for another attempt in the near future as satellite imagery captured by commercial firms Planet and Maxar has seen increased activity on the planet in recent days Imam Khomeini Spaceport show, according to experts from the Middlebury Institute of International Affairs in Monterey, who analyzed the photos.
Fuel tanks, support vehicles and a mobile platform can be seen on satellite imagery taken of the site as recently as June 20, which the experts at Middlebury believe is a key indicator that another attempt at launch could be made in the coming days or weeks .
The images also show increased vehicle activity at the Khomeini launch site, which is nearly 200 miles east of Tehran, which experts say is another sign of a potentially imminent launch.
“The US space command is aware of the Iranian missile launch failure that occurred early June 12,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland said in a statement to CNN. It is unclear why the launch was unsuccessful and at what stage it failed, officials said. Previous Iranian attempts to put satellites into orbit either exploded on the launch pad or failed at a later date.
The increased activity at the Iranian spaceport comes at a critical time in Tehran-Washington relations. The two countries are in delicate negotiations over a return to the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and a possible relaxation of sanctions against Iran. Activity also comes into the final weeks of President Hassan Rouhani’s term in office before he is replaced by ultra-conservative Justice Chief Ebraham Raisi in August.
While U.S. Defense officials failed to identify the missile used at launch earlier this month, Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said it was likely the Simorgh missile, a two-state launcher with Engines based on a North Korean design.
“The failed launch is the fourth consecutive failure of the Simorgh launcher,” said Lewis, author of an upcoming book on the Iranian space program. “Iran seems to be struggling with this particular system. Other Iranian missiles of various types have been more successful.”
Iran’s critics see the satellite launches as a provocative move as the missiles use technology similar to that required for ICBMs (ICBMs).
“Iranians have a long history of merging commerce and the military,” said Bradley Bowman, executive director of the Center for Military and Political Power of the radical think-tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Anything Iran does in space would worry me because it … will use the same skills against us in a military conflict.”
After the launch last April, Fabian Hinz, an independent open source analyst focusing on Middle East missiles, took note of the technological developments. “While Iran’s civilian program uses launchers that are ill-suited to ballistic missile conversion, the IRGC appears intent on developing launch technology for long-range missile development and signaling those capabilities in more or less subtle ways,” he wrote back then.
The US Space Command tracked two objects at launch: the Nour satellite and the missile body. The satellite remains in orbit, but the Pentagon considers it unusable.
“Iran’s last space launch took place in April 2020 and put a simple microsatellite (NOUR-1) into orbit, which the US Space Command is still tracking. However, our continued observation of this object shows that it is uncontrolled and inoperable, “Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland said in a statement to CNN Tuesday.
Now Iran seems ready to try again.
“Iran has announced three Simorgh space launches this year. The fact that they are trying again so quickly says a lot about how much the space program wants to succeed,” said Lewis.
Still, Lewis suggested that if Iran were to pursue ICBMs, it would develop another missile, saying, “The Simorgh is huge and uses engines that are basically oversized Scud engines which are pretty inefficient. If Iran has one If he wanted to build ICBM he would follow North Korea’s path and build an ICBM with a better engine or motor and small enough to be carried by a truck. “
In the past, the Iranian space program has been plagued by a series of failures and glitches that prevented the country from effectively launching a satellite into orbit.
In January 2019 and July 2017, the Iranian Space Agency launched a two-stage launcher, but neither launch put a satellite into orbit.